Do you see what I see?

This week, I decided to write a blog that would serve as the introduction to my final topic. Over the next four weeks, I will be discussing early child development and social cognition. Understanding the social cognition of a toddler is important in order to study many other important social cognitive processes. It is important to know right off the bat, however, that social cognition doesn’t come out of nowhere. Just as a child learns how to walk, talk, speak, and call attention to themselves, a child must also learn how to do social cognition. This week’s blog on joint attention will serve as a welcome introduction, as social cognition does not develop without the crucial step of joint attention.

Joint Attention:

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The cognitive development of an infant is one of the most fascinating subjects in all of social cognition. Infants are not born out of the womb being able to use cognitive processes and interact socially, so there must be a neural process that provides the stepping stones to what we are able to call early social cognition. The introduction to social cognition begins with the study of joint attention. Joint attention is the act of both the child and the parent’s coordinated attention on an object or motion. An example of this would be a parent and a child reading a storybook, and both the parent and the child running their fingers over the words and pictures together. During this process, both the infant and the parent are aware that the other is focused on “reading” the storybook. Other joint attention activities include These are just three examples of joint attention, but the important takeaway from this subject is that joint attention is an infant’s first interaction with social cognition. Joint attention is to social cognition what learning the alphabet is to being able to form words. (Carpenter, et al. 1998)

It is around the one year mark of development that the child begins to show an interest in activities pertaining to joint attention. Another indicator that they are at this level, as some children start earlier or later than one year old, is that children who are able to do joint attention are the same children who are able to direct an adult’s attention actively to objects by using intentionally communicative gestures- the ability to ask for a specific type of cereal or a specific colour of balloon, or an interest in a specific television show of their choosing. Part of participating in joint attention is the child not only following the parent’s finger with their own to show that they are following around, but frequently looking up and turning around to make sure that the parent’s and is still attached to their body. This action will confirm that the process of joint attention is taking place. From this point forth, the child enters the stages  of social cognition. (Akhtar & Gernsbacher, 2007)

How to produce joint attention in children with learning disabilities?

Problems with joint attention are common in children with learning delays, speech delays, children with autism, and children with Down Syndrome, and nonverbal children. These children have difficulties with making connections with parents and family members and get frustrated easily with the concept of learning, as it is so difficult that it provides a negative framing for learning. For all these children, nonverbal children especially, it is important to build joint attention with them in order for them to communicate minimally (whether that be verbally, using sign language, pointing to pictures of what they want when they want it, or even just understanding deliberate grunts and sharp movements when they want something).

The best advice for helping these children can be summarized by a series of steps:

  1. Get down onto their level.

As a person with experience volunteering and babysitting children with both Down-syndrome and severe autism, the most important thing for engaging in play or conversation with them is appealing to their interests. If all the child wants to do is stack blocks and colour, you sit down on the floor and stack blocks and colour.

2. Copy what the child is doing.

Engage in the activity with them and make sure the child can look up and see you having fun while you play with the object. This will allow the child to feel safer with the parent and to feel like they can learn about and talk about what they know and love without having any higher expectations placed upon them.

3.Reinforce proximity:

To begin the joint attention process, place the child in a comfortable position in between your legs. As the child plays, reach around, and mimic what they are doing. Just like the step previously. While you are doing this activity, laugh with joy so that the child knows that you love the activity just as much as they do. They will begin to look up and see where the laughter is coming from. This is a child with a learning disability’s first interaction with joint attention.

4. Gradually increase the amount of time the child is engaged.

6.At this step, the child will be at the same level of comfort with doing joint attention with you as any other child. They now possess the skill of joint attention, and will begin to show signs of early cognition. (Clark, 2015) 

To learn about building joint attention using eye-hand coordination instead of eye contact, please read this additional article.

Tune in next week for a blog on child development and social cognition.

References:

Ahktar, N. & Gernsbacher, M.A. (2007) Joint Attention and Vocabulary Development: A       Critical Look. Lang Linguist Compass, 1(3), 197-207.

Carpenter, M. et al., (1998). Social Cognition, Joint Attention, and Communicative                 Competence from 9 to 15 Months of Age. Monographs of the Society for Research                             in Child Development, 63(4), 178. 

Chen, Y., Smith, L.B. (2013). Joint Attention without Gaze Following: Human Infants and     Their Parents Coordinate Visual Attention to Objects through Eye-Hand                                     Coordination. PLoS 1, 8(11) 79659.

Clark, C. (Producer)  (2015)  Speech, Language, & Kids) [Audio Podcast] Joint Attention: How   to Establish Joint Attention for Those Who are not Tuned In. Retrieved                                         from https://www.speechandlanguagekids.com/establishing-joint-attention-                         therapy-for-children-who-arent-tuned-in/

Heuristics

I am writing my blog post this week selfishly because I have been hearing the word heuristics thrown around in class, and I had only a vague idea of what a heuristic was. The purpose of this blog post is to help out other students in Social Cognition , who may have fallen asleep in Social Psychology the way I did. Heuristics are important concepts in social cognition because they contribute to a better understanding of automatic thought processing and implicit social cognition . By the end of this blog post, you will be able to identify what a heuristic is, and have the base knowledge of four different heuristics that influence your life and decision making without even knowing it.

A heuristic is a mental shortcut that is taken when information is processed. Because of all of the stimulus that is absorbed on any given day, the brain has come up with some clever tools, or shortcuts, to alleviate the need to waste mental effort. We are neurologically hardwired to rely predominantly on heuristics when making choices. (Duff & Peace, 2013)

Although there are many heuristics that have been discovered, four of the most popular heuristics are discussed below:

  • Availability Heuristic: This heuristic is used to estimate the likelihood of an occurrence based on how easily one can remember an example of that occurrence. The availability heuristic is often used to protect ourselves. The availability heuristic was used after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Although airplane travel is far safer than travel by automobile, air travel declined all over the world after the tragic event and individuals chose to drive instead, which would put them in greater risk.

Once you learn about the availability heuristic, it is quite easy to manipulate someone’s cognitive processes to make them do what you want them to. If, for example, your friend was debating whether they wanted to party or not, and you didn’t want to, by reminding your friend of all the worst times they had while partying, the friend will be less likely to want to go out. (Duff & Peace, 2013)

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  • Representativeness Heuristic: The representativeness heuristic (RH from now on) is used to judge whether a person or thing is a part of a certain category. This heuristic is problematic, because we can jump to conclusions of who a person is based on what categories we place them in. An example of the RH in action was done by Lonsdale & North, and centered on using a person’s musical taste as a complete judgement in character. In both studies they performed, there was overwhelming evidence that people had no problem making snap decisions about who someone was depending on the music they listen to. (Lonsdale & North, 2011)

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  • Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic: The Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic (AAH) is a heuristic used for estimation. For the anchoring part, we state an answer that we know is wrong, but close. This is our anchor. From there, we guess lower or higher for the “actual answer”. The AAH is a bad heuristic to feed into because we completely throw our high functioning cognitive skills out the window in favour of a guess.

The AAH is taken advantage of by creators of shows such as Price is Right. On the show, the contestant is presented with an item and asked to guess the approximate value of it. Closest contestant to the true value wins that round. If we were to guess the approximate price of a boat on the show, we might know the approximate price of a house, and the approximate price of a car. The price of the boat would be somewhere in between this number, leaving much room for error. (Epley & Gilovich, 2006)

  • Framing Heuristic: Framing is a heuristic in which an individual will make different decisions depending on the way the situation presents itself. It is a tool most often used in advertising. When a situation is framed positively, we are more likely to buy into it than if it is framed negatively. If I’m on a diet, I want to read “sixty percent less sodium” not “still contains 30% of your daily intake of salt.” We make this heuristic to feel better about ourselves, or better about situations. When surgeons want to try an experimental surgery, they’re more likely to tell you “this surgery will provide a sixty percent chance in recovery” instead of saying “there is a forty percent chance that following through with this medical procedure could lead to your death.”(Rybash & Rubin,1989) (Cohen & Babey, 2012) 

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How can you stop feeding into heuristics?

The only way to prevent heuristics and autonomic decision making is to cognitively intervene. When faced with a situation in which the past could influence your decision, a situation in which one aspect of an individual leads you to label them, a situation in which you estimate a value by first starting with a false but close guess, or a situation in which you are going to make a decision based on the framing of the situation, the answer is to take a step back and evaluate. What actually makes sense here? Is the man I’m talking to actually a dumb hick because he listens to country music? Probably not. Is the ice cream I’m picking up really healthy if it is labeled “frozen yogurt”? Probably not. Am I going to die if I choose to drive after I hear that my roommate has been in a car accident? Probably not. The biggest advice I can offer to eliminate erratic judgments and heuristics is to simply use your brain.

References:

Cohen, D. A., & Babey, S. H. (2012). Contextual Influences on Eating Behaviors: Heuristic Processing and Dietary Choices. Obesity Reviews : An Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity13(9), 766–779.

Duff, K.J. & Peace, K. (2013) THINK Psychology, First Canadain Edition. Halifax, Nova Scotia. Pearson Education Canada.

Epley, N. & Gilovich, T. (2006) The Anchoring and Adjusting Heuristic: Why the Adjustments Are Insignificant. Psychological Science, 17(4), 311-318.

Lonsdale, A.J. & North, A.C. (2011) Musical Taste and the Representativeness Heuristic. Psychology of Music, 40(2), 131-142.

Rybash, J.M. & Roodin, P.A. (1989) The Framing Heuristic Influences Judgements about Younger and Older Adults’ Decision to Refuse Medical Treatment. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 3 (2), 171-180.

Cross-Cultural Cognition:Contrast between Eastern and Western Mental Processes

Cross-Cultural Cognition: America versus China.

From the moment human infants are brought into the world, the stimulus that they are exposed to (sights, sounds, smells) are processed by their brain. As Piaget said, children are not brought into this world with a blank slate. They are brought into this world as their brain is in the process of development, and the first step in their cognitive development is to take the influx of stimulus and make sense of it. (Flavell ,1992) The environment in which the child is born into will influence how the child will build the walls of their cognitive infrastructure. One way to see the impact children can have when raised in different countries is to examine monozygotic twin studies, in which twins are separately adopted, and raised from birth. From the conclusion of many of these studies, we know that when these twins reunite later in life, they will be completely different from each other. (Little & Lopez, 1997)

The United States and China are much different places to grow up in. China presents a primarily collectivist society, in which children are reared to put their family first. This mentality extends as they grow to putting the interests of society far before the needs of the individual. In the United States, children are raised in a capitalist’s paradise. The goal from birth is to stand out enough in society to get into the best schools, get the best jobs, and make the most money. As Markus says: In America, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, where as in China, the nail that stands out gets pounded down. (Markus, 1991) Because of these two entirely different cultures, it makes sense that the cognitive process of American and Chinese residents is entirely different. (Berry & Dasen, 1974)

Specific differences in American and Chinese cognition:

Because America is an individualistic culture, and China is a collectivist culture, it is no surprise that the cognition processes in western and eastern individuals is drastically different. The following studies show examples of the opposing cognitive processes.

  • In a study done by Mesuda & Nisbett (2001), cross-cultural cognition was observed in a study on change blindness. In this study, American and Asian test subjects sat before an animated underwater scene. After watching the animation once, and then twice, the test subjects were asked to describe to the experimenter what happened. American participants were drawn to the brightest, fastest, most colourful animations and said things like “The big trout in the center swam left and disappeared.” Asian participants looked at the animation more holistically. After only two views of the animation, the Asian participants began talking about the background contexts of the animation. The Asian participants showed 60 percent more details about the context than American participants. They were able to see more subtle changes in the animation, along with the obvious focal changes.
  • When sorting objects, Americans are more likely to sort according to type. (a cow is similar to: A horse, a sheep, a pig, a chicken.) All these animals are grouped into farm animal types of animals. When sorting objects, Asians are more likely to list items that had some relationship to the original word provided. (A cow is similar to: pasture, farm, barn, hills, etc. ) All these items focus on the cow’s relationship with its environment.

Differences in American and Chinese neuroanatomy that explain the differences in cognition styles:

  • Cultural differences in eye fixation for complex visual stimuli:
    • The change blindness study above explained that the difference between American Cognition, and Asian cognition is that Americans were primarily focused on interesting focal points, whereas Asians were more focused on context clues of the environment.
    • Eye-tracking software was used to gather information on where the eye look when it looks at an image, and how much time the eyes spend looking in a specific spot.
    • American eye movements focused for longer periods of time on focal points: The animal, some of the more interesting background information.
    • Asian eye movements were quicker, and instead of looking at one focal point, they spent less time looking in one particular spot, and instead shifted their gaze to multiple points in the background of the stimulus and spent even less time glancing at the main focal point of the picture. They looked at this last. (Park, 2010)
  • Structural differences in brains between cultures:
    • The neural structure of Asian individuals shows more growth and grey matter density in four spots across the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, and temporal lobe. The growth is mainly in language centers, as well as information processing centers. The reason for increased brain activity in these areas is because of the difference in the cognitive work that goes into language acquisition for a Chinese language. Cognitive strategy differences are based off of Chinese people having to have more of a complex view on language and communication than American people. (Park, 2010)

Bi-cultural Cognition

*For the purposes of not turning this blog post into a novel, I will make this brief. Although I have to say. Researching bi-cultural cognition was the coolest part of this particular foray into social cognition.*

  • Bi-cultural cognition involves an individual comfortably ingrained in two different cultures. A good example of an individual who may fall into this category is and Asian American citizen, perhaps the child of a Chinese immigrant.
  • Bi-cultural cognition involves frame-switching. Frame switching is a cognitive process that occurs in all humans where we act differently when entrenched in different  social settings. (The way a teenager may act in the presence of friends is different from the way a teenager may act in the presence of a parent).
  • When a bi-cultural individual frame-switches from one culture to another, for example coming home from school to eat dinner with family, the way the individual would respond to the same questions is different.
  • When asked about selfesteem levels, Asian American students will rate themselves with a higher self-esteem when speaking in contexts of school, but a lower self -esteem when speaking in contexts of home. (Ross, Xun  & Wilson, 2002)
  • In experiments of priming and visual stimulus (Hong, Chiu & Kung, 1997), as well as experiments proving that language was a powerful motivator for frame-switching and different cognition patterns, what both experiments have in common is that once exposed to a cultural stimulus (stereotypical cultured images, or that culture’s language), the way they think is altered.
  • After getting primed by either visual stimulus or language, bi-cultured Asians in the presence of Asian stimuli will show more collective cognitive thought patterns, while when in the presence of American stimuli and language, the cognitive patterns prove to be more unique and individualistic. (Ross, Xun & Wilson, 2002)

References

Berry, J.W. & Dasen, P.R., (1974) Culture and Cognition: Readings in Cross-Cultural Psychology. Methuen’s Manuals of Modern Psychology, London, England. Methuen & Co.

Flavell, J.H., (1992). Cognitive Development: Past, Present, and Future. Developmental Psychology, 28(6), 998-1005.

Hong, Y.-Y., & Chiu, C.-Y. (2001). Toward a paradigm shift: From cross-cultural differences in social cognition to social-cognitive mediation of cultural differences. Social Cognition, 19, 181–196

Kesebir, S., Uttal, D. & Gardner, W. (2010). Socialization: Insights from social cognition. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 93-106.

Little, T.D. & Lopez, D.F., (1997). Regularities in the Development of Children’s Causality Beliefs about School Performance across Six Sociocultural Contexts. Developmental Psychology, 33(1), 165-175.

Markus, H.R., (1991). Culture and the Self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224-253.

Masuda T, Nisbett RE. (2006). Culture and change blindness. Cognitive Science, 30(2), 381–399.

Park, D. C., & Huang, C.-M. (2010). Culture Wires the Brain: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science : A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science5(4), 391–400.

Ross, M., Xun, W. Q. E., & Wilson, A. E. (2002). Language and the bicultural self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1040–1050.

The Complete Elimination of Social Loafing in Group Projects

What is Social Loafing?

Social Loafing is a cognitive process that occurs in a group setting in which individuals do not pull their weight to help maximize the group dynamic. Social loafing is not specific to known slackers. Social loafing is a cognitive decision that is made by every individual depending on the circumstance. This can happen because of:

  • Unfamiliarity with the subject of the project or members in the group.
  • The consequence of everyone in the group getting the same grade, therefore eliminating the need for the member to produce their best work.
  • A decreased level of interest on the subject of the project than the rest of the group. (Comer 1995)

Why does Social Loafing Happen?

Social loafing can occur in physical contexts, such as rope pulling, sports, or crowd participation at sporting events, or cognitive contexts, such as brainstorming as a group, group lab work, or even contributions to online forums like this one.

Social loafing transpires because of two general issues:

  1. First the communication between the group members is poor (or there are issues in coordination) such as every group member unknowingly writing the same idea, or not all members of the group paddling in time with the drum in a dragon boat race.
  2. Second, there is a decrease in motivation of one or more members of a group. A good example of this second problem is a group member cognitively deciding to reject a project because they did not get their own way. (van Dick, Tissington, Hertel, 2009)

In both cases, individuals guilty of social loafing did so because they figured their individual ideas, or efforts would not be identified, or because they thought their ideas were not necessary to include in a project with more extroverted members. (van Dick, Tissington , & Hertel ,2009)

How Can Social Loafing be Completely Eliminated?

Here are two ways to reduce or eliminate social loafing in your group projects:

  1. Often, an excuse that social loafers will make to excuse their behaviour is the statement:

My schedule is so full, I have no time to meet up and get this project done. Just assign me a small part to research and write about, and I’ll email it later.”

This statement removes the onus from the loafer, forcing the rest of the group members to divide up tasks and assign a topic to the loafer that has a low time commitment. Research from Stevens M.C. shows that using technology can help move the project forward. Using a public, live forum that every member of the group can access (such as Google Docs) eliminates the need for the group to physically meet up at all and takes away the excuse for not being able to meet in person. The fact that it is live shows the group exactly who is contributing and how much each person is contributing. Assigning each group member a particular colour of font can help maintain responsibility to match the length and quality of their information with that of their peers. (Stevens, 2007)

  1. A big conflict in any group project arises at the end of the project when group members come forward with the true feelings of their fellow group members.

“John didn’t do an equal amount of work as the rest of us on this project!”

“Kate and Mary took over the project and demanded it all be done a certain way! There wasn’t anything I felt I could uniquely contribute!”

A genius marking scale provided by Stevens M.C. (see Figure 1.) presents a nine point marking scale, placing 5 (the top mark) in the middle of the scale. The scale accounts for group members who may have put too little into the project, and group members who completely took control of the project. A one on the five point scale is awarded to both those who do not do enough, and those who do too much. A five on the five point scale represents the group member working with the perfect amount of group participation: contributing unique and insightful ideas, while not making their ideas the spotlight of the presentation. (Stevens, 2007)

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Figure 1: Image of sample peer grade scale from Margaret Carnes Stevens. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.uleth.ca/stable/pdf/27559318.pdf

Next time a group project is assigned in one of your University classes, talk to the professor about these two tips to reduce or even eliminate social loafing in your group project.

References:

Comer, R. (1995). A Model of Social Loafing in Real Work Groups. Human Relations, 48 (6), 647-667.

Stevens, M.C. (2007). The Quick Fix: Making Groups Work. College Teaching, 55 (2), 88.

van Dick, R., Tissington P. , &Hertel G. ,(2009). Do many hands make light work? How to overcome social loafing and gain motivation in work teams. European Business Review, 21(3), 233-245.